Liverpool enjoyed sustained success in their offensive style of play over the second half of last season, as manager Brendan Rodgers altered his team lineups with regularity to feature his most potent attacking players.
Raheem Sterling excelled, Philippe Coutinho found consistency and the front two of Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge couldn't stop scoring, but the main change was in the midfield shape, as the Reds went for a diamond midfield to leave two centre-forwards in place.
Liverpool switched between the diamond and 4-3-3 between January and May and have done the same over pre-season. But after two games starting with the latter formation in the league, and given the transfer activity this summer, it looks clear that the side is more suited to playing with the diamond midfield, and that this should be the team's layout going forward in the coming months.
Front Two Required
Part of the reason Liverpool might not have started with the diamond this season was that they didn't necessarily have the attacking players in place to do so. Rickie Lambert will play a part as the season goes on, but he hasn't hit the ground running and, until the recent Manchester City defeat, he remained the only striking partner for Sturridge.
Mario Balotelli has now joined and, per Brendan Rodgers' comments to LiverpoolFC.com, could be ready to feature in the next game against Spurs:
I think by the weekend [he'll be ready to feature].
He's been into pre-season and he's played three 45-minute games. He might not be up to full match speed, but he's looking fit.
We've done some analysis on him. The medical and sports science team have worked with him already and he's in very, very good condition.
He's in to work and he'll be available for the squad for the weekend.
Balotelli and Sturridge could take a little while to gel, but they are potentially an extremely exciting pairing for the Reds to work around. Both can also flick wide, giving Rodgers the option to return to a 4-3-3 in game at a moment's notice.
Last season's diamond was at its best with Steven Gerrard deepest, Joe Allen and Jordan Henderson wider and one of Sterling or Coutinho in the No. 10 role breaking into space. In certain games, both of the latter played, with Coutinho operating from a right-sided starting point.
Add into that the new additions of Emre Can and Adam Lallana, and the Reds have good depth for those four points of the diamond, while Lucas Leiva also remains at the club. Lazar Markovic's brief cameo role against Manchester City came from the left, but he can also play as the 10.
Assuming the captain and Henderson are staples more often than not, Liverpool have power, pace, passing ability and creativity to pick from, choosing two from seven for the other roles. Great depth, with a great range of traits to select for any given game.
The Reds also featured with Sterling as one of the "two forwards" at times last season, but his pace and ability to utilise space on the ball is perfectly demonstrated when in the 10 role and was a big part of what made the team's transition play so dangerous in the latter stages of the season. With Sterling in that position and the likes of Coutinho and Gerrard behind, ammunition will be plentiful in the shape of quick, incisive through passes.
Playing the diamond gives Liverpool a better balance though the middle, makes the best use of the players likely to feature most frequently and keeps two forwards in the side, which is how they have looked most dangerous both before and after the departure of Suarez.
Protecting Defence...by Attacking
Liverpool's defence isn't great. Blame it on the individual qualities, the fact that two or even three new faces could make up the back five at any one time or on whatever else, but it's clear that chances can be created against the side again this year.
In the first instance, the diamond affords more protection to the team down the vulnerable channels than a 4-3-3 has done so far, with the central midfielders working hard to support the full-backs rather than asking the wide forwards to do so. The latter has the natural knock-on effect of depriving the team of a quick out ball, too.
Packing the centre last year saw Liverpool hound teams to win back the ball before striking quickly with their technical, but hard-working, players—the sort of whom they have added more of this summer.
Liverpool challenged for the league title last season by out-gunning many of their rivals, and so far it appears they are going to have to do similarly well in the final third this term. For that to happen, the midfield diamond should make a return sooner rather than later, for the benefit of all.
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